Camberwell, BA(Hons)Photography 2012
Creative Enterprise Award Winner 2012 – Freelancer
Within months of graduation, Jonathan had racked up an impressive array of freelance work as a film maker. He has made three documentary films, completed an expedition, and won a Discovery Channel award. Soon he will have completed a film for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic and worked on a number of programmes for Channel 4, BBC3 and Virgin. There are another three expeditions on the way, including one that takes him through military conflict zones and crocodile infested rivers.
You’ve had a varied career across film and TV since graduating – what’s the secret to getting your career off the ground so quickly?
I realised that I would have to put a lot of time in without getting paid for it, which is sadly the reality of the job, so I started getting unpaid work experience as soon as I started studying at UAL. I would spend all of my free time trying to work on small shoots for films and music videos. I also helped out with some film workshops and tried to meet as many people in the industry as possible. If an opportunity came up, I would take it and I would do it to the best of my abilities. I was fortunate to meet some really generous and well-connected people who put me on the right path very early on. As soon as I graduated, I started charging for my services, invested all of my money in equipment and tried to keep working as much as possible.
What are the main skills and characteristics you need for this sort of career?
I am certain that the most important characteristic is the willingness to work hard for very little return in the early days. I spent many months sacrificing my social life to gain the necessary experience. In the early days, I had no idea how to use a video camera, nor did I have any knowledge of cinematography. I spent half the time learning how to do everything by using the college equipment and studying in the library and the other half lying to potential employers about my lack of experience! As with any job that involves working in a team, I found it really useful to have a sense of humour and an open mind. It often didn't matter that I wasn't particularly good at what was being asked of me, but my eagerness to learn was obvious and my ability to get along with everyone in the team ensured that I was given further work in the future.
Did studying at Camberwell help you prepare for your career? What else could UAL have done?
I was studying Photography and had spent some time studying moving image from a fine art perspective. This gave me a really good understanding of the technical and aesthetic elements of filmmaking. UAL gave me the flexibility to broaden my studies into areas that I felt were more relevant to my intended career path. I attended a lot of cross-course lectures and talks from visiting artists across all of the colleges. These talks were some of the most useful and important elements of my final degree. I think that it was vital to my current position that I was able to access this wealth of information.
What tips would you give current students hoping to build a career in film-making and production?
One of the best tips I can give to any current student is to start working towards your career as soon as you can. It doesn't matter if you're not 100% sure about what you want to do - start doing something productive that you enjoy and it will start to fall into place over time.
It is also a huge help to have self-confidence in everything you do. It doesn't matter about the imperfections, just create something, put it out there and see what happens. Opportunities are everywhere, but if nobody knows that you exist, they're never going to give you your first big break.
One of the most important things that I've learned is that people employ people, not portfolios. If you're friendly, hard-working and easy to get along with, people are very likely to want to work with you again and again. A poor portfolio or showreel can easily be improved over time, a bad attitude can not.
Put as much effort into every project you are working on, regardless of whether its a university project, an unpaid work-experience job in an office or a job on a million dollar blockbuster. You never know who will see the work, or even who you're actually working with. The best jobs I've had over the last few years have all come from the people I met whilst working on an unpaid job photographing a party in an office.
Everybody in this industry seems to be connected. Be nice to everyone, regardless of their role or who you think they are. It also helps to talk to as many people as you can, at events, at Uni, in a bar - especially in London. The next person you meet could be the most important person you ever meet in your career, even if they're doing the most seemingly menial job: Every job I did whilst at Uni can be traced back to conversations I had with just two people.
Aim BIG! Just go for it. Don't worry about failing and don't strive too hard for perfection. Get out there and start making a name for yourself.
What’s coming up next for you?
I have just launched my own production company called Third Revolution Media, specialising in adventure filmmaking and online media. We're working with some new and exciting clients and have some amazing projects in the pipeline. I'm travelling to Spain this month to learn how to pilot a single-seater paramotor for a feature-length documentary in Africa in 2014, for which I will be the aerial cameraman. The film will be directed by two Oscar-nominated documentary directors and we've just signed Ewan McGregor to present and narrate it. The film will involve three custom-built flying cars flying up the Rift Valley in Kenya.
Third Revolution Media are also signed up to film a record-breaking stunt on Mt. Everest in 2015. We are also in talks to develop our own Adventure Film Academy, teaching potential new cameramen how to capture great footage in extreme conditions.
We're also looking to recruit new videographers and editors and would be really happy to hear from any current UAL film students who might be looking for some paid experience or regular part-time work.